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Disruptive Technology: Follow Fight Club Rules

Smart IT pros will apply the rules from the movie "Fight Club" to discussions with business colleagues. First rule: You do not talk about disruptive technologies.

I'm a sucker for blockbuster movies, and one of my all-time favorites is Fight Club starring Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. For those of you unfamiliar with this gritty film, it's the story of an insomniac office worker who meets a soap salesman and together they form an underground fight club. The fight club is a brutal affair, but founded on a set of spoken and indisputable rules.

This got me thinking about the importance of rules and the struggle IT professionals have every day trying to explain to their business counterparts the value of new disruptive technologies -- and how like in the Fight Club, the winners will be those that stick to the rules.

Rule #1: You do not talk about disruptive technologies.

Mention DevOps, cloud or even mobility and watch the eyes of your business colleagues glaze over. We've all made this mistake many times before, throwing acronyms like ITIL, COBIT, SOA, MDM and APIs (to name but a few) at our business peers without translating them into clear and unambiguous business terms. It can be done with a little careful thought. For example, a CIO acquaintance of mine is building a business case for what amounts to a DevOps project by calling it something completely different -- a business acceleration initiative. Furthermore, the success of this initiative is being measured on how it drives new business.

Rule #2: You DO NOT talk about disruptive technologies.

If you keep trying to impress people with your technocratic prowess, you'll never get to a business case. Remember, the word "disruptive" conjures up all sorts of unpleasant images for business executives, so lead with describing both the business value of the technology trend and the opportunity cost if your organization ignores it. For example, if you're trying to describe application program interface (API) development and management, never talk RESTful APIs, JSON, OAUTH and JavaScript. Rather, describe how you'd like to discuss opportunities to reshape traditional business models via external partners and new channels.

Rule #3: No-holds-barred "shadow IT" is allowed.

If you don't embrace disruptive technologies, the business probably will anyway whether you like it or not. Mobile apps and cloud services don't require armies of skilled technicians to install and maintain. Quite the opposite, they're simple to access (self-service), they deliver immediate productivity, and they provide attractive subscription pricing models (pay as you go) or can even be free. Consider also that some of your own IT colleagues are probably engaging in "shadow IT" or "rogue IT" -- especially those in development, who are probably using cloud-based development platforms and tools to speed the delivery of new apps and services.

Rule #4: There can be more than one fight at a time.

Most disruptive technology trends are interrelated so don't consider each in isolation. For instance, any foray into mobile application development will probably place your existing testing and release timetables at odds with hyper-accelerated delivery requirements. Careful consideration should therefore be given to "people-centric" activities that unify teams toward the common goal of helping the business stay relevant and fully exploit new channel opportunities. Notice how I followed rule #1 and #2 and didn't mention DevOps or mobility.

Rule #5: If the business says "stop," the fight is over.

Anything disruptive that's shaped by technology has to be measured against a clear set of business goals. For example, can your DevOps team meet the commitment to increase time-to-market by 30%? If so, by how much did the defect rate in your application releases fall and how did this improve customer service? Similarly, how has the introduction of a new cloud service led to better performance, reliability and scalability -- and how did this affect revenue? In all cases, the secret sauce is a set of clear business metrics, i.e. increased transaction throughput and growth of new channel business. Follow this rule and you're on the road to success. Ignore it and your initiative will be counted out in the first round.

So go ahead, join the Fight Club and embrace new disruptive technology, but remember: follow the rules and never lose sight of the business opportunity -- that's where the fight is truly won and lost.

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User Rank: Apprentice
10/18/2013 | 5:16:33 AM
re: Disruptive Technology: Follow Fight Club Rules
Sad but true. Disruptive technologies scare some people, Exceptional IT is not for the fearful
User Rank: Ninja
10/16/2013 | 11:13:15 PM
re: Disruptive Technology: Follow Fight Club Rules
Knowing your audiance will take you a long way. Trying to impress people that don't know what your talking about because of the jargon you are useing will do the opposite of impress. It will turn people off.
User Rank: Strategist
10/16/2013 | 8:21:39 PM
re: Disruptive Technology: Follow Fight Club Rules
Why would you bring up DevOps to business people? There are IT staffers in operations who defy anyone to explain DevOps to their satisfaction.
Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/16/2013 | 7:12:20 PM
re: Disruptive Technology: Follow Fight Club Rules
Great column about communication and the rules of engagement. I think everyone agrees that IT should go easy on the acronyms and bring their language down to earth when talking to the business side. You do not talk about about COBIT and SOA ... I also like this point: If there's no clear business objective, the fight is over.
User Rank: Author
10/16/2013 | 6:42:26 PM
re: Disruptive Technology: Follow Fight Club Rules
I love the "DevOps" vs. "business acceleration initiative" example. Big data pros face similar hurdles when they start talking about Hadoop. IT leaders are learning to be creative about naming projects and project elements.
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